AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Travis County District Attorney’s office called on more than 70 victims of family violence cases to come forward so it can prosecute those pending cases.
In a press conference on Tuesday, José Garza said his office has attempted to make contact with those victims but had been unsuccessful so far.
“We have worked hard to prioritize victims of family violence. We want to work hard to earn your trust,” he said.
Earlier this month, in a one-on-one interview with KXAN investigators, José Garza said these offenses, along with other violent crimes, were the priority for his office but were often some of the “most difficult” cases to prove.
During that interview and again during the Tuesday press conference, he provided statistics showing his office had secured more than 400 family violence convictions last year.
According to his office’s analysis, compared to the number of family violence cases it received in 2022, that brings the conviction rate up from 45% in 2021 to 83% in 2022.
Garza also noted his office planned to present 245 family violence cases to a grand jury for indictments in the next few months.
Meanwhile, data recently obtained and analyzed by KXAN investigators through a public records request revealed the office also had dismissed or rejected more than 600 family violence cases in 2022. More specifically, “assault on a family or household member” ranked in the top five offenses with the most dismissals and rejections that year.
“In the overwhelming majority of instances, domestic violence cases arise out of complex, intimate relationships between parties,” Garza said, noting prosecutors will sometimes dismiss or reject cases at the request of the victim or because the victim will not cooperate with the prosecution.
The data obtained by KXAN investigators showed the top reason for family violence case dismissals in 2022 was listed as “Complaining Witness Request.”
He said, “In each of those cases, the district attorney’s office makes an independent evaluation of our public safety as a community and the safety of that victim to make a determination about whether we can and should move forward without them. But as a general rule, it remains very difficult to secure convictions without the support and testimony of the victim.”
KXAN investigators asked Garza about instances when his office pushes forward with a case, even without victim cooperation.
He explained that they will also evaluate how serious the harm committed against the victim was, as well as the history of violence between the victim and the defendant.
“What I mean by that is in instances where we see evidence of escalating violence between this defendant and this victim, that gives us great concern, obviously, about the safety of the victim,” he said.
University of Texas School of Law professor Jennifer Laurin said there are often complex reasons a victim might not want or feel able to participate in an ongoing case.
“It could be an individual to whom the victim is married. It could be an individual upon whom the victim is financially dependent. It could be an individual upon who the victim is dependent for childcare,” she said.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Garza emphasized the work his office has done regarding family violence cases since he took office. For example, they increased the victim service’s budget from $1,219,966 to $2,300,344, added more employees to the victim services division and brought down the number of cases assigned to each victim counselor from 400 to 260 per counselor.
They also announced some changes to the office policy on how to engage with victims.
Garza said he wanted victims to know if they are not ready to contact his office, there are still ways for their voice to be heard in the judicial process.
He shared the podium with leadership from SAFE Alliance, who encouraged victims who want confidential legal assistance or guidance to call its 24-hour “safe” line at 512-267-7233.
However, if someone with a pending case wants to speak to the Travis County District Attorney’s office and victim services division, they can visit the website here or call (512) 854-9449.